Topics Courses, 2021-2022

While all topics courses count towards the Psychology major/minor, only some are approved for the Neuroscience major/minor.


Issues in Neuroscience

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SCI (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 50.01

Neuroscience of Mental Illness

In 22W at 12, Margaret Funnell

The goal of this course is to explore the neuroscience of mental disorders. The ways in which we conceptualize and categorize psychopathology is changing rapidly, particularly as we gain insights into the neurological correlates of mental illness. We will review the characteristics of specific mental disorders and then delve into current neuroscientific research. We will focus in particular on the fundamental processes underlying psychopathology so that we can gain a better understanding of neurological relationships amongst seemingly disparate disorders. Although the class is focused on neuroscience, mental disorders cannot be fully understood without considering the experience of those suffering from these disorders. To better understand the experience of mental illness, we will watch a series of films and read a personal account of mental illness.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6

PSYC 50.07


In 22W at 2, Kelly Finn

Ever wonder what it's like to be a cat, or a fish, or a bat, or an octopus? Without careful consideration of another animal's sensory capacities, cognitive capabilities, and social situation, we risk inappropriately ascribing our own human characteristics and motivations to them when explaining their behavior (i.e. anthropomorphization). This course explores the "umwelts" or sensory self-worlds of non-humans, using concepts from information theory to deconstruct what they may be perceiving.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6, and PSYC 10

PSYC 50.09

Motivation, Drugs and Addiction

In 21F at 11, Kyle Smith

This course will explore how the brain controls our motivation to pursue goals and how drugs of abuse hijack those systems. We will learn about some historical perspectives of motivation as well as modern neuroscience work showing how areas of the brain might contribute to motivations. In the process, we will explore in detail how narcotic drugs (opioids, stimulants, alcohol, cannabis) act in the brain and the mechanisms underlying the transition from drug use to addiction.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6 and one of: PSYC 35, PSYC 37, PSYC 45 or PSYC 46


Issues in Information Processing

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 51.01

The Neuroscience of the Mind-Body Problem

In 21F at 2, Peter Tse

Neuroscience has learned a great deal about how neurons function, and Psychologists have learned a lot about the contents and processes of the mind. But we lack a deep understanding of the bridge that must link these two sides of the "mind-body" problem. We do not yet fully understand (1) how information is processed, transformed and communicated by neurons, (2) how consciousness can be realized in physical neuronal activity, or (3) how mental events realized in physical brain events can be causal of subsequent mental and physical events. This course will focus on what is known about the neural code and the neural bases of consciousness, mental causation and free will and what is not yet understood. We will focus on reading original research articles and chapters from books that attempt to get at these deep and challenging conceptual and empirical issues.  A particular focus will be the relationship of attentional processing to consciousness, and its neural bases. Students will be expected to write up critiques of readings, and present on topics of common interest.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6, PSYC 21, or PSYC 28

PSYC 51.02

Facial Perception

In 22W at 11, James Haxby

This course will focus on face perception, person perception and the mental processes we use to make sense of other people, including their thoughts, attitudes, personal traits, social connections, and personal history. The course will examine the role that person perception plays in face and voice recognition and social interactions. Particular relevance will be put on the neural systems for the representation of person knowledge and the mental states of others focusing also on what happens when these systems are impaired.

Faces play a fundamental role in facilitating social exchanges. Therefore, particular emphasis will be put on different aspects of face perception from face perception in different animal species to recognition of identity and decoding of different type of social cues in humans. A brief overview of person perception through other modalities such as voice perception and body posture also will be discussed.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 51.09

Human Memory

In 22S at 2, Jeremy Manning

Knowing how our brains organize and spontaneously retrieve memories is at the heart of understanding the basis of the ongoing internal dialog of our conscious thoughts.  Put simply, our memories make us who we are. The field of human memory also has a practical side.  For example, how much should we trust eyewitness testimony? Or, should you cram for tomorrow's exam or get a good night's sleep instead? We will examine a range of classic and cutting-edge experimental results and theories that form the foundation of our current understanding of how we learn and remember.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6.

PSYC 51.12

Visual Intelligence

In 22W at 2A, Viola Störmer

How is our perceptual experience shaped by our memories, attention, and culture? When looking around the world, we have the impression that we perceive a true image that faithfully reproduces the physical properties of the world. However, perception is a construction of what's really out there, and our visual system constantly makes smart guesses and complex inferences about what we are likely to be perceiving.

In this course, we will learn how our own memories, attention, and cultural background influence our perception of people, objects, scenes, and emotions; what optical illusions reveal about the visual system; what and why we forget certain things but remember others; what the failures of visual attention mean in real-life contexts (e.g., mammography, or the TSA), and how experience shapes our ability to see.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisites: PSYC 1 or 6; and PSYC 10

PSYC 51.13


In 21F at 3A, Samantha Wray

The deceptively simple tasks of perceiving and producing language require the performance of complicated and often overlapping functions at high speeds. How can we study the representations and processes that make language possible as they interact in the black box that is the human mind? The goal of this course is to provide a broad understanding of research focusing on how the human mind structures, stores and accesses linguistic information. 

Prerequisites: LING 1 or COGS 1 or Instructor Permission

Crosslisted as:  LING 50.01

Dist: SOC

PSYC 51.14

Sustainable Choices: Understanding Human Cognition To Save The Planet

In 22S at 3A, Alireza Soltani

Every choice we make in our daily life has an impact on the environment we live in and on life on earth in general. While perceiving this impact is impossible in most cases, the enormous human population and globalization make the cumulative impact of every simple choice very profound. In this multi-disciplinary course, we explore how human activities affect life on earth in terms of climate change, biodiversity, deforestation, pollution, etc., in order to learn about the intricate link between our everyday choices and eco-sustainability, as well as how physical and biological laws limit or improve our ability to be sustainable. This course is focused on learning about the impact of our choices as it is focused on learning about heuristics/biases that humans exhibit when making those choices and how these heuristics/biases emerge in the brain. The course brings together ideas from Neuroscience, Psychology, Economics, Physics, and Biology among other fields to teach students about how and to what extent decisions we face in everyday life, directly or indirectly, influence life on earth, and how negative impacts can be mitigated by understanding the neural bases of human decision making.



Issues in Learning and Development

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise stated in the course description)

PSYC 52.04

Adolescent Risk Behaviors: Corporate and Envrionmental Influences

In 21F at 3B, James Sargent

Chronic health conditions (like cancer and heart disease) kill the majority of people worldwide. Those diseases result, in part, from use of products—e.g., tobacco, alcohol, & convenience food—that are produced and marketed worldwide by multinational corporations.  This course centers around how corporations influence unhealthy product consumption during childhood and adolescence. This course describes the theoretical basis for these influences, the science used to establish corporate products as a cause of youth behavior, and how governments try to limit the influence through regulation. The study will cover tobacco, alcohol, drug use, homicide/suicide, food/obesity, and risky sex. (Note: this course was previously offered as PSYC 53.03.)

Prerequisite: PSYC 1

PSYC 52.06

Typical and Atypical Neurodevelopment

In 22S at 2A, Caroline Robertson

Approximately one trillion synapses are formed each day during the first three years of life, many of which are pruned away by age five.  What is happening in the brain during these formative years? The goal of this course is to provide insight into the neural basis of human cognition by examining the "tabula rasa" of the human brain and how it changes over the first few years of typical and atypical development. Throughout the course, we will wrestle with questions regarding which facets of our neural machinery and cognitive abilities are innate vs. acquired. We will discuss the development of specific cognitive capacities (e.g. learning to read, recognize faces, pay attention, communicate, socialize) from the perspective of individuals with typical developmental trajectories in each of these domains, as well as from the perspective of individuals with difficulties in each domain (e.g. dyslexia, prosopagnosia, ADHD, autism). This course will draw upon your prior knowledge of psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and neurobiology, and will explore classic and cutting-edge peer-reviewed scientific studies of developmental psychology, neurodevelopment, cognitive development.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 6, PSYC 21, PSYC 27, PSYC 28, or PSYC 38


Issues in Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience

See below for topics.  Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 53.12

The Behavior of Groups

In 22W at 9L, Melissa Herman

Much of your life is spent in groups: families, classes, teams, cliques, Greek organizations, work teams.  Have you ever wondered what's going on under the surface or how you can make your groups function better?  Although these groups may be dissimilar in size, format, and function, the psychological processes involved are surprisingly consistent.  This course will analyze psychological theories of group interaction including conformity, competition, conflict, leadership, negotiation, communication, power dynamics, status orders, initiation rites, ostracism, expectation states, and stereotypes.  Readings will include classics such as Zimbardo's Stanford Prison experiment, Tajfel's minimalist groups paradigm, Sherif's Robber's Cave experiment, Whyte's Street Corner Society, and Pennington's Social Psychology of Behavior in Small Groups. Assignments will involve several reading analyses, a final exam, and—of course—a group project.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1.

PSYC 53.14

Social Neurocognition

In 22S at 12, Arjen Stolk

This course will provide students with a thorough background in the emergent field of social cognitive neuroscience. A broad range of social phenomena will be examined at multiple levels. First, at the social level including experience and behaviors. Second, at the cognitive level which deals with information processing systems. And lastly, at the neural level which deals with brain/neuronal bases of the first two levels. Topics include joint action, animal and human communication, and altered social functioning in psychiatric and neurological disorders. These topics will be discussed at both general and specific (article) levels.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6



Issues in Applied Psychology

See below for topics. Enrollment limited to 35 students.
Dist: SOC (unless otherwise listed in course description)

PSYC 54.02

Health Psychology

In 22W at 3A, Mark Detzer

This course will explore the role of psychology and health.  We will review both empirical/research and clinical psychology contributions to: 1) health promotion; 2) chronic physical illness; and 3) interacting with the US healthcare system. This course utilizes a multi-modal learning approach and will include lectures, readings, large and small group class discussions, videos, guest speakers, and self-reflection of your own health behavior. Through in-depth study of medical conditions such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cancer and chronic physical pain, we will explore the impact of illnesses on the individual/family, the role of development/cognitive factors in illness, adherence/self-management issues, and medical treatment issues via doctor/patient/medical system aspects of care. We will also review health promotion/behavior change strategies.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6

PSYC 54.03

Forms of Therapy

In 22S at 10A, William Hudenko

Each year, millions of people vow to make a change.  Some may wish to end their habit of procrastination, others to improve a significant relationship, or still others may commit to combat a mental illness.  Whatever their goal, people often discover how challenging personal change can be.  At its core, clinical psychology facilitates such change through the scientific application of psychological principles.  The purpose of this course is to introduce you to various scientifically-validated modalities of individual psychotherapy, with an emphasis on how psychotherapies utilize psychological principles to produce change.  Over the course of the semester we also will explore special topics in the field of clinical psychology such as: human connection, empathy, emotion, ethics, psychological assessment, pharmacological treatments, and treatment evaluation.

Prerequisite: PSYC 24

PSYC 54.05

Consumer Neuroscience

In 22S at 11, Kimberly Rose Clark

How do measures of the brain and body map onto a brand marketer's return on a research investment? This course focuses on the history and topics related to the nascent, yet burgeoning, cross-disciplinary field of consumer neuroscience and new technological advances in marketing related to neuromarketing. The course will provide a unique vantage on the multiple academic and applied histories of the field, its ethical ramifications, along with general perspectives focusing on current practices and potential future directions, including the implications of predicting mass consumer behavior from small test samples. Students will have the opportunity to engage with some of the most notable academic and practitioners in the field and will participate in a capstone project of original research applying theory and utilizing psycho physiological tools applied in real-world neuromarketing research.

Approved course for the Neuroscience major/minor.
Prerequisite: PSYC 1 and one of PSYC 21, PSYC 27, PSYC 28, or PSYC 38; or PSYC 6.

PSYC 54.06

Dementia: From Synapse to Society

In 22S at 2A, Robert Santulli

The goal of the course is to learn about Alzheimer's disease and other dementias from multiple perspectives: biological, psychological, sociocultural, global, ethical, and clinical. The overall focus will be on the lived experience of the person with dementia.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or PSYC 6, or instructor permission.

PSYC 54.08


In 21F at 3A, John Jordan 

What makes a great leader?  Why would others follow you?  A century of psychological research clarifies the traits, skills and behaviors of effective leaders, including how they attract, influence, develop and empower followers to excel in different situations.  Readings will explain the psychological science; classroom demonstrations, guest leader interviews, case study discussions and small group challenges will illuminate it.  Outside the classroom, weekly leadership practice assignments will reinforce core concepts, increase self-awareness, and develop leadership capabilities, all in support of a community impact initiative that each student will select, plan and lead (courage required).  Your instructor will apply three decades of experience in developing thousands of leaders at all levels on multiple continents, to guide and challenge you to develop your science-based leadership potential.

Prerequisite: PSYC 1 or permission of instructor